With Sochi over, it seems as though the games have just begun.
Look, when it comes to Ukraine, perhaps it’s safe to say that no one really knows what’s going on. Don’t get me started trying to explain it all. Seriously. Don’t. It would be a very short conversation.
Here’s what I know: there were protests against the Ukrainian President for playing with democracy and (some felt) being a Russian puppet, straying from Europe. Blood was spilled, there was a nasty time, and he fled to Russia as the revolution continued. Then, in Crimea, the Ukrainian peninsula that leans culturally and politically far more towards Russia than Europe, Russian troops appear in a sudden “uncontested arrival,” to use the American phrase.
I won’t pretend to know any more than that; I leave that responsibility to politicians. Enter Harper & Co.
The recent developments in Ukraine, particularly what many have called a soviet-style invasion, have prompted Canada to pull out of Moscow. It was as messy as the sexual innuendo suggests; Harper recalled Ottawa’s Russian Ambassador for “consultation” while suspending G-8 meetings in Sochi, along with the rest of the group.
Of course, attempting to respect the “sovereignty and territorial integrity” is the name of the game. But Harper’s recalling of the ambassador foregoes so much. Instead of diplomacy, John Baird huffed and puffed and probably said something like, “I swear Putin. I swear that if you do one more thing… oh okay. You did. But if you do one more thing, in addition to that thing you already did, well, we’re going to recall our ambassador.” I’m sure few rafters on the Red Square are rattling and Putin is sitting in a shower crying, wondering what the hell went wrong.
Of course, this is a joke: recalling the Russian Ambassador is like hitting the trail running and hoping that problems will solve themselves the farther you get away from them. If you disagree with someone, you don’t stop talking to them.
It may very well be that Russia is beyond talking to though. Harper’s insistence on Canada’s obligation to Ukrainian citizens, then, is the only solution, but it is a pale, limp solution at best, kind of like trying to start a fire with a wet match. What happens in Ukraine has very real concerns for Canada. It is all so surreal: the creeping, possible outbreak of war. There’s really nothing funny about it. People have died. People are dying. And people will die.
And that means that what is needed is not the Canadian mathematic policy, where John Baird sits at his desk fumbling with his risk/reward calculator. Careful, calculated procedures won’t help. Putin is gambling. He pushes a little, thinking the West will back down, and he starts collecting his chips when they don’t react. He saw an opening, and he made a thrust. Yet, as Poland’s Prime Minster Donald Tusk stated, “History shows – although I don’t want to use too many historical comparisons – that those who appease all the time in order to preserve peace usually only buy a little bit of time.”
How much time? God only knows, and even he seems a bit rough on the math. Besides, it’s Putin that Harper’s government is dealing with. This is a guy who runs a country with almost unparalleled impunity. So, I guess what I’m trying to say is that, on most days, God probably pretends to be Putin.
This does not mean one should forego the discussion like Harper’s government seems to have done. Only dialogue, not silence, will work to solve the crisis. So when Baird and Harper both say that they respect the citizens of Ukraine to make their own country, which citizens are they referring to? The various ethnicities that reject either nationality? The Tartars? The Huns? The Scythians? The Slavics? The pro-Russian Ukrainians? The pro-Europe Ukraine? Ukraine is a country divided into a powder keg of allegiances. To deny the makeup is to deny the very same multicultural mould that defines Canada.
Let’s also not forget that Crimea is an autonomous parliamentary republic within Ukraine. The push of Russian forces in Crimea was first and foremost sought from within, rather than externally. Maybe cancelling the G-8 summit was not the best call, but diplomatic negotiations at the UN went only as far as expected. Maybe we’ll return the ambassador soon and resume talks, but any scenario is far from certain.
Luckily, or perhaps unluckily, Canada isn’t a large player, despite Harper’s parading around. Still, like a mouse trying to scare an elephant, Canada cannot jump around and do nothing at all. It must dance around until the elephant notices.